Friday, 15 January 2010

The 20 greatest Australian funk records

For those of us who see a long haul holiday as an opportunity to undertake some serious digging, the land down under is a veritable treasure trove of vinyl.

1970’s Australian jazz and funk has gained increasing respectability in recent years via DJ’s such as Kinetic and Sheep. The rest of the world is finally catching on to the genre with an increasing number of collectors returning to records that, outside their own country, were often seen as inferior to their US and even UK counterparts at the time. Many of these records now attract a premium and their popularity has recently led to the release of a trio of excellent compilations called Respect Overdue on the Creative Vibes label.

Significantly influenced by folk, progressive rock, krautrock and other genres of the day, 70’s Aussie funk is distinctive in that it was very much funk of the blue-eyed variety while its jazz scene was very much defined by the quality of its musicianship and its ability to incorporate the latest sounds. Despite the size of the country, the scene was relatively small in numbers with many musicians playing on each others records. The funk tradition continues to this very day with the excellent Bamboos, Dojo Cuts and Tiki Two.

My own first brush with Oz funk occurred during a round the world trip about a decade ago – picking up a haul of Marcia Hines, Daly Wilson and Crossfire amongst others – records that can be picked up even now for a few dollars but brimming with quality. It’s a serious financial undertaking to get out there but that’s where ebay comes in! Enjoy…

1. Sue Barker – S/t (Crest 1976)
A bit of a holy grail this one with copies changing hand for over £100. Sue Barker was a jazz singer from Adelade and only recorded this one record but what a record it is. An embarrassment of riches with jazz standards, Marvyn Gaye and Curtis Mayfield covers. If you see one snaffle it!

2. Quasar – Man Coda (AIJA, 1981)
Privately pressed and only 500 copies in existence. Recorded direct to digital tape by just a drummer, bassist, and guitarist, the sounds vary from moody, multi-layered tunes like the title track through to more jazzy stuff. The drums in particular are really heavy. Clearly influenced by the Krautrock sound and a fantastic psychadelic cover as well.

3. Savanna Silver Band – Pure Silver (Champagne, 1978)
I picked this up a few years ago in Brisbane and I don’t know much about it but its great. White boys playing afro funk and 70’s radio rock. The stand out track is Ruby Running Faker.

4. Marcia Hines - Marcia Shines (Wizard, 1975)
Classic northern soul straight out of New South Wales. American born Hines had a long and successful career and still gigs today. There are a number of standout tracks on this, her first, album including You gotta let go and Don’t let the Grass Grow. You should be able to pick this one up for under a tenner and well worth it.

5. Kerrie Biddell – Kerrie Biddell (Bootleg, 1973)
Biddell had been a pianist until she developed arthritis at 15 and so turned to singing. The album as a whole is on a singer-songwriter folky vibe but the track people tend to buy it for is a cover of Sly Stone’s Sing a Simple Song which provides a fantastic, energetic and original take on the original (think Janis Joplin perhaps).

6. Don Burrows – The Tasman Connection (Cherry Pie, 1976)
Perhaps the best known Aussie Funk album of all, the title track being sampled by all sorts of hip hop producers over the years. A heavy clarinet break that is instantly recognisable. Multi-instrumentalist Don Burrows is one of the Australian jazz scene’s most respected players. Despite now being over 80 he still occasionally plays today.

7. Ayers Rock – Big Red Rock (Mushroom, 1973)
Another heavy break on this one in the form of ‘Crazy Boys’. These guys had a slightly proggy leaning but as with so many Aussie funk releases tight playing mean that this has a real grove. Great cover as well!

8. Gallapagos Duck – Ebony Quill (Phillips, 1974)
More stalwarts of the 70’s jazz scene. Many would plump for their soundtrack to the Removalists as their best work but this is my particular favourite. Recorded in just two days it features a trio of flutes over mellow jazz grooves – niiiice.

9. Billy Thorpe – Million Dollar Bill (Festival, 1975)
This is worth admission for one track alone – a cover of Etta James’ ‘Back on the Streets’. Essentially an Aussie take on the Theme from Shaft – psychedelic soul sung by a guy who looks like a redneck cop. Billy Thorpe is dead now but this album is a fitting testament to his post Aztecs work.

10. The Tony Ansell Orchestra – Just Arranging (Batjazz, 1978)
A who’s who of the vibrant 70’s scene – featuring, amongst others, Kerrie Biddell and Don Burrows. This is straight ahead jazz with (as the title suggests) some excellent arrangements.

11. Rock Mass for Love – Bakery and Jazz Ensemble (Astor, 1971)
A personal favourite this one. Released in 1971, a bizarre fusion of Anglican church service and full on heavy jazz funk. The combination of spiritual chanting and psychy Axlerod-esque beats makes this a truly unique recording.

12. Hammond Electrique – Claude Pepesch (EMI Australia, 1974)
Cheesy listening Wurlitzer classic with a number of the staples of the day (Candle in the Wind, Killing me Softly) the payoff is a Pepesch original called ‘Trini Baby’

13. Inner Space – Sven Libaek (Festival, 1973)
Not really a funk record – rather a bizarre soundtrack to a film and tv series about sharks. Recently re-released on Votary Records where they’ve fed spoken word dialogue by William Shatner into the grooves. Subtle and lovely.

14. Rene Geyer – It’s a mans world (RCA, 1974)
Yet another female funker who had a long and successful career in her own country. This features a wonderfully overaught version of the James Brown classic as well as a version of Issac Hayes’ Do your thing.

15. Stratusphunk – Bruce Clarke (Cumquat, 1974)
This one isn’t cheap to pick up but its a wonderfully 70’s jazz rock fusion in the days when analogue synths ruled. Clearly influenced by Bitches Brew, Three Seconds is the key track.

16. Coleen Hewett (Festival, 1972)
Colleen Hewett came from Bendigo in Victoria. Starting as a pop singer with local bands, she later branched out into acting and was part of the cast for the Australian production of musical Godspell. Her self titled first album featured songs from the show and a bluesy cover of Help by the Beatles.

17. Don Burrows – The Brazilian Connection (Cherry Pie, 1978)
Intriguing fusion of one of Oz’s premier jazz quintet’s and Brazilian guitarists Burnier & Cartier and recorded live in Sydney and Canberra. Features jazz legends George Golla and Tony Ansel.

18. Cross Purposes – Various Artists (Unison)
Compilation of 70’s christian happy clappy stuff with some surprisingly funky numbers – not least by Anne Shelton and the Intrumentals. Think Wicker Man in Adelade…

19. Daly Wilson Big Band feat. Kerrie Biddell (Elephant, 1975)
More stalwarts of the scene – famed for their sponsorship by Benson and Hedges cigarettes (hard to imagine Kate Nash being sponsored by Lambert and Butler nowadays…). Biddell features on four tracks – most notably City Sounds.

20. The Brian Brown Quartet – Upward (Phonogram, 1977)
Mellow, but melodic jazz fusion. Brown’s soprano sax soaring over the rest of the band. Kind of reminds me of Weather Report or something like that. Wonderfully experimental.

This material should not be reproduced in part or whole without permission of the author.

April 2009

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